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The Great Library of Alexandria
In the world of The Great Library, the royal library of Alexandria, Egypt never burned down like it did in real life and has since risen to become a dominant world power in its own right. Despite behind upheld as a beacon of knowledge and progress, the library has a dark side. The higher ranking officials seek to exert control over everything the library influences, and violently stamp out anything that might threaten their control, using everything from veiled threats to outright murder.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Library is certainly ancient, and, although famous, conspires to keep all countries and citizens subject to it. This involves controlling the spread of knowledge and destroying anyone or anything that threatens it.
- Artifact Collection Agency: A primary focus of the Librarians, although they work exclusively on books (and scrolls, tablets, etc). This involves retrieving these 'originals' from hitherto undiscovered caches, smugglers, and private citizens. One sector of the organization, the High Garda, is dedicated to this and to stamping out Library-related crime.
- Badass Bookworm: A given, since this is a world where a library is a dominant world power.
- Badass Normal: Everybody but the Obscurists
- Diplomatic Immunity: Supposed to be given to agents of the Library at all times, including during open war. Unfortunately, some countries only provide the bare minimum.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: Because of the influence they exert and their acceptance of the brightest minds in the world, the library can be reliably counted on to employ anyone regardless or race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, disability, or religion.
- Great Big Book of Everything: The Codex serves as one.
- Great Big Library of Everything: The Library contains all knowledge ever recorded, although only some of it is made available to the public.
- Impartial Purpose-Driven Faction: What the Library is supposed to be. It...isn't.
- Light Is Not Good: The publicly visible figures and portions of the library are always brightly dressed and appearing benevolent.
- Multinational Team: They accept only the very best and brightest from every corner of the globe.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Most library employees oppose the protagonists simply because the heroes are going against tradition.
- Nebulous Evil Organization: Zig-Zagged. The organization itself isn't evil, but the administration clings to their old way of doing things despite the vulnerability posed by the Obscurists and violently destroys anything and anyone that can threaten the Library's influence on the world, and most of the rank and file employees follow the administration regardless of whether they're right or wrong.
- N.G.O. Superpower: They have bases all over the world, they have diplomatic immunity in all war zones, and their own army. To give an example of how much power they have, when the Austrian government violated the Library's neutrality, taking several staff members prisoner and executing them, the library destroyed Austria in retaliation.
- Pretentious Latin Motto: Tota est Scientia. Knowledge is all. Justified since this is a library we're talking about.
- State Sec: The High Garda
- We Have Reserves: The Library places the value of books above the human lives given to protect them.
As a groupThe incoming class of new recruits in the year 2031. They come from all over the world to train for a chance to enter the library's service, but there are only six openings available. As the herd thins out, they discover the dark side of the institution they are training to serve. When one of their own is imprisoned and executed for creating something to help the library that the administration fells threatens their power, the remaining postulates join forces to uncover the library's secrets and change the world.
- Badass Bookworm: A given, since they're all studying to be librarians.
- Dwindling Party: They start out as a group of 32, and slowly get whittled down as Wolfe tests their knowledge, resourcefulness, and luck. Then they go into a warzone, and no one is safe. Only six of them remain.
- Family of Choice: The core six make it clear early in the third book that they consider each other family.
- Multinational Team: Jess and Morgan are English, Glain is Welsh, Thomas is German, Khalila is Middle-Eastern, Dario is Spanish, Izumi is Japanese, Danton is American with French routes, and Portero is Portugese.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: They all defy the library's rules and regulations throughout the second book to save Thomas.
- Sixth Ranger: Morgan Hault
- True Companions: Everyone at the beginning of the series is friendly with each other (some of them anyway), but by the end of it, they all become friends.
- Undying Loyalty: Towards each other. Although they've all gone on to different branches of the library, none of them hesitate to defy the rules and do what's right when they find out that Thomas is still alive.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Jess with Dario and Glain.
Jess BrightwellThe series protagonist and scion of a family of black market book smugglers. Jess has always had a deep love of books and has always felt at odds with his family's business. When his father sends him to the library for training in order to use him as a spy, he begins to enjoy the thrill of being around books, only to discover that the dark side of the library is far darker than he ever believed possible. At the end of the first book, he joins the High Garda intending to work his way up the ladder and avenge Thomas.
- Abusive Parents: His father treated him more like a tool to further the family business than an actual son.
- Always Someone Better: feels that his twin Brendan is always better at the family smuggling business than he is.
- The Chessmaster: He and Dario are forced to become this in the third book to ensure the group's long-term survival.
- Cultured Warrior: Becomes this when he joins the High Garda alongside Glain at the end of Ink and Bone.
- Friend on the Force: What his family wants him to be within the Library.
- Memory Gambit: While impersonating Brendan in book 4, he has Elsinor Quest hypnotize him so that he actually believes he is his brother for the next twenty-four hours. He does this to avoid the library's more Obscurist-related interrogation techniques so he can maintain his cover.
- New Meat: To the High Garda at the end of book 1, then to Captain Santi's squad midway through book 2.
- Not So Different: he and his twin brother Brendan. Both see each other as Always Someone Better and consider themselves The Unfavorite of the family.
- Official Couple: With Morgan. Until they break up in Book 5 and she dies.
- Polar Opposite Twins: Jess and Brendan look alike but have very different personalitiesJess is outgoing and kind, while Brendan is both more reserved and seemingly more sadistic.
- Secret Keeper: Keeps Morgan's nature as an Obscurist a secret for most of the first book.
- Street Smart: As a result of his family's business, he knows his way around the ins and outs of the criminal underworld of book smuggling. This both helps and hurts him at various points in the story.
- Twin Switch: He and Brendan pull one off at the end of Ash and Quill so that he can accompany Morgan and Wolfe to Alexandria.
Thomas SchrieberA genius inventor from Berlin studying to become an Artifex for the library. He is taken prisoner by the library when he invents a printing press, and subsequently tortured for more ideas before he is to be eventually executed.
- Beware the Nice Ones: The High Garda Elite working for the former Archivist learned this the hard way when they try to abduct him in Sword and Pen.
- Distressed Dude: Held captive by the Library in a secret prison underneath the Serapeum in Rome for the first two thirds of Paper and Fire.
- Child Prodigy: Invented several miniature automatons, a printing press, and full-blown Artificial Intelligence on his own at the age of 16.
- Gadgeteer Genius: In a steampunk world where all technological progress is held in check by the library, Thomas single-handedly invents a clockwork chess-playing Artificial Intelligence.
- Gentle Giant: He's described as being big enough to bend iron, but he's unfailingly polite to everyone around him.
Khalila SeifA brilliant girl from the middle east studying to become a Scholar. She's braniac of the group, but never hesitates to get her hands dirty when the situation calls for it. Becomes a research Scholar at the end of the first book and uses her position to help her fellow postulates uncover the secrets of Thomas' incarceration.
- Badass Boast: Delivers one by proxy on behalf of the library itself in the first book.General Warlow: (speaking to Captain Santi) "With one single command, I could make you, your scholar, his students, and all your troops and vehicles just... vanish. Just like that. No bodies. No wreckage. No trace. Strange things happen, in war. That's not a threat. It's a simple fact.Wolfe and Santi respond with Death Glares.Wolfe: "It's good we understand each other. Every single fallen Scholar in history has his or her name on a wall in the Great Library. Names that each of these students remember. You may ask them. They will flawlessly recite each name, each war, each instance. Postulant Seif. Relevant example, please.Khalila: "Yes, Scholar. Scholar Padma Dahwan was selected to close the Serapeum in the city of Milan during the war with Austria. She and her entire party were taken prisoner by the Austrian army and executed. The Serapeum was destroyed.Wolfe: "And the Library's response?"Khalila: "Austria no longer exists."
- Badass Bookworm: They're all Badass Bookworms, but Khalila stands out as the smartest one out of the whole group.
- Beta Couple: Forms one with Dario
- Child Prodigy: Only 16 years old and she's the first person in the entire world to ever get a perfect score on the Library's entrance exams.
- She then becomes the youngest in history to hold the office of Archivist Magister.
- Expy: Of Hermoine Granger
- Good Is Not Soft: Is perfectly willing to get her hands dirty in a fight if she has to.
- Shipper on Deck: Shows hints of this for Thomas and Glain in the fourth book.
- The Smart Guy: Fills this role among the other postulants. She was the first person in history to ever achieve a perfect score on the entrance test after all.
Glain WathenA girl from Wales with a fiery temper and fierce determination. She becomes a sergeant in the High Garda at the end of the first book and serves as Jess's squad leader for the first third of Paper and Fire.
- Action Girl: Especially when she joins the High Garda.
- The Big Guy: As a member of the High Garda, she fills the role of the team's muscle.
- Cultured Warrior: When she joins the High Garda.
- The Determinator: She's driven to excel at whatever she does.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With Jess. Their initial rivalry is due to the fact that their countries are at war.
Dario SantiagoThe son of a Spanish ambassador who begins the series as Jess's snobby, obnoxious roommate. Becomes a Research Scholar alongside Khalila at the end of Ink & Bone, and attempts to use his professional and personal connections to help his friends rescue Thomas in Paper & Fire
- Beta Couple: With Khalila.
- The Chessmaster: He and Jess are forced to become this in the third book to ensure the group's long-term survival.
- Expy: Of Draco Malfoy at first.
- Hidden Depths. Paper & Fire reveals that because of his deaf sister, he's fluent in sign language and is assigned as an assistant to a deaf scholar.
- Then Ash & Quill reveals that his cousin is the king of Spain.
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Blames himself for getting Scholar Prakesh killed.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While he can still be a snarky, cynical Jerkass at times, he does care about his friends.
- Leroy Jenkins: His efforts to help Thomas keep failing due to his lack of experience in being subtle and discreet.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: His cousin is the King of Spain, making him count as an example of this trope.
- Spoiled Brat: Starts off as one, but gets better after his Codex is stolen.
- Took a Level in Badass: Grows out of his Leeroy Jenkins status in Sword and Pen, where he successfully tricks the Spanish spy network in Alexandria into destroying the archivist's minions and freeing up resources for Santi to defend the city with.
- Took a Level in Kindness: After his Codex, which he received as a gift from his father, is stolen by other students as blackmail material, he stops acting like a spoiled brat and undergoes some serious character development.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With Jess.
Guilamme DantonAn American student whose family is suspected of having ties to the Burners.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: The library kills him with a botched Translation.
IzumiA student from Japan and one of the final nine students to make it to the end of the training course. She is dismissed from the course before the mission to Oxford when she ducks out of travelling by translation.
- Put on a Bus: is dismissed from the training course when she cannot handle travelling via translation.
- Sacrificial Lamb: killed during the escape from Oxford.
Morgan HaultA refugee from Oxford who arrived late in the training course due to the fact that her home was under siege by the Welsh army. She turns out to be an Obscurist attempting to erase all records of her existence before the Library can find her and lock her in the Iron Tower for the rest of her life.
- Damsel in Distress: Trapped in the Iron Tower at the end of the first book.
- Damsel out of Distress: Breaks herself out twice in the second, however.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Uses her Obscurist powers to extinguish the flames of the Great Archives' failsafe and stop the Archivist's plan to destroy the library if he cannot have Alexandria at the cost of her own life.
- Killed Off for Real: she dies at the end of Sword and Pen.
- Last Girl Wins: The fourth major female character introduced, and the only one Jess is interested in romantically.
- Noble Fugitive: She's being hunted because of the fact that children born with the power to be an Obscurist are rare and critical to the library's continued existence.
- Official Couple: With Jess.
- Secret Keeper: She and Jess agree to keep each others' secrets when he finds out she's an Obscurist.
Christopher WolfeA disgraced scholar and the teacher of the 2031 class of postulates. He is on probation after a lengthy stint in prison for inventing the printing press, which the Library's administrators see as a threat to their power. Only his mother's position in the upper ranks of the library saved him from being executed, yet the library continued to hold threats over the people he cares for to keep him in line.
- Badass Bookworm: He's a scholar.
- Badass Gay: Not as badass as Santi, but he still knows how to handle himself in a fight.
- Badass Normal: As the son of two Obscurists, his moments of action in Oxford definitely make him qualify.
- Beta Couple: With High Garda captain Niccolo Santi.
- Child by Rape: The Breeding Program the library uses to breed more obscurists amounts to Rape by Proxy in all but name.
- Cynicism Catalyst: His imprisonment made him bitter and cynical, not helped by the fact that he's forced to teach a bunch of untrained children as punishment and his lover is constantly being threatened to keep him in line.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Over the course of his time with his students, his cynicism begins to fade bit by bit.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He may be a cynical jerk for most of the first book, but he balks at the idea of sending inexperienced children into a warzone.
- Parental Substitute: The final book openly acknowledges he was more of a father to Jess than Callum Brightwell ever was.
- Stern Teacher: He's not a sadist so much as he's just intense and, honestly, not a great teacher. The job was an explicit punishment.
- Muggle Born of Mages: His parents were Obscurists.
- Secret Secret-Keeper: He and Santi know perfectly well that Morgan is an Obscurist and Jess comes from a family of criminals, but keep quiet about it anyway.
- Straight Gay: no indication of his sexuality is given until Jess comes to Santi's quarters to ask a question and finds him shirtless.
- Team Dad: A fact that Santi acknowledges in the third book.
- Undying Loyalty: To his students, and to his lover, Santi.
Naomi EbeleA research scholar stationed at the Oxford Serapeum.
- The Bus Came Back: Shows up at the London Serapeum in Paper and Fire.
Scholar PrakeshA deaf Indian woman working in the Alexandria Lighthouse.
- She Knows Too Much: Killed for helping the Postulants investigate the Black Archives.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: The official story is that she was hit by a carriage while crossing the street. None of the Postulants believe that for a second.
Neska DarziA Silver-Band Scholar at the Library who Brendan was staying with in Paper and Fire.
- Break Her Heart to Save Her: Brendan breaks up with her so that she won't be punished if he gets caught.
- She Knows Too Much: Killed by the Archivist in Smoke & Iron when her prior relationship with Brendan causes him to question her loyalty.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Killed when an Automaton drives its spear through her back.
MurasakiA scholar assigned to one of the Serapeums in Spain. She becomes the next Archivist at the end of Smoke and Iron.
As a wholeThe High Garda are the soldiers of the Library's personal army. High Garda soldiers handle everything from bodyguarding Research Scholars in hostile territory to raiding Burner hideout.
- Badass Army: They function as this most of the time, but when the plot requires it, they'll switch to Red Shirt Army.
- Red Shirt Army: They alternate between this and Badass Army as the plot requires.
- Cultured Warrior: All of them have received the same training as a scholar.
- State Sec: They are the Library's version of this
Niccolo SantiA Captain in the Library's High Guarda. He serves as Scholar Wolfe's teaching assistant for the duration of the first book, and Jess and Glain's commanding officer for part of the second. Unlike many of his fellow soldiers, he is perfectly aware of the evil the library is capable of behind closed doors, but his lover Wolfe is constantly threatened to keep him in line.
- Badass Gay: Automatically qualifies as a High Garda captain.
- Badass Teacher: Not technically a teacher, but he still helps Wolfe with his class and serves as a mentor to the students.
- Beta Couple: with Wolfe
- My Lover, Right or Wrong: he thinks Wolfe's attempts to get involved with helping his students rescue Thomas are suicidal and will most likely only get one or both of them killed, but he stands with his lover regardless.
- Secret Secret-Keeper: He and Wolfe know perfectly well that Morgan is an Obscurist and Jess comes from a family of criminals, but keep quiet about it anyway.
- Straight Gay: no indication of his sexuality is given until Jess comes to his quarters to ask a question and finds both him and Wolfe shirtless.
- Team Dad: Fills this role alongside Wolfe, a fact that he acknowledges in the third book.
- Undying Loyalty: To Scholar Wolfe, his lover.
Thabani BothaCaptain Santi's third-in-command.
- You Are in Command Now: Promoted to captain of the squad when Zara defects in Smoke and Iron.
Captain NghiemA Vietnamese High Guarda member in charge of Wolfe's security detail on his first assignment as a Scholar outside of Alexandria. She's killed by Burners attempting to assassinate Wolfe.
- Red Shirt: Killed to give Wolfe a reality check about the dangers of his chosen profession.
Zara ColeOne of the soldiers in Captain Santi's company. While initially loyal to the Library, the events of the second book and their aftermath shake her faith in the Library.
- Hell Face Revolving Door: [[spoiler: First she's a loyal soldier for the library in Book 2, then she helps Santi, Wolfe, and the postulants in their rebellion in Books 3 and 4, then she sides with the Archivist, then she betrays the Archivist in Book 5.
- FaceHeel Turn: Defects from the rebel faction at the climax of Book 4 because she fears that Santi's Undying Loyalty to Wolfe will get them all killed.
- Friend on the Force: After some initial heistation in the second book, by her next appearance she and the rest of Santi's company are willing to look the other way when the main cast escapes Philadelphia in Ash and Quill.
- Heel Realization: Realizes she chose the wrong side when the Archivist Magister would rather destroy ever book in the library rather than let the institution continue on without him.
As a groupThe Obscurists are a mysterious group of alchemists that perform all the essential functions of the library such as translation and mirroring. However because those born with the power required to become an Obscurist are rare, they are forced to spend their entire lives trapped inside the Iron Tower in the heart of Alexandria. Those born outside the tower are taken from their homes by force, and those born inside without the gift are forced out into local orphanages. All Obscurists living inside the Tower are forced to breed with each other as the Library desperately tries to cling to its power.
- Achilles' Heel: They are the Library's greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. Without the Obscurists, the Codex doesn't work, and without the Codex, the library falls. Rather than try to reduced their reliance on the Obscurists, the Library administration only clings tighter to the ones they have and desperately searches for more, hoping to capture or breed more generations.
- Alchemy Is Magic: Their version of it is.
- Breeding Cult: An unwilling example, as the Library has forced them to become this so that the institution can have a steady supply of Obscurists.
- Happiness in Slavery: Some of them have become so accustomed to their confinement in the Iron Tower that they're happy to accept whatever is asked of them.
- Super Breeding Program: The Library forces the Obscurists in their employ to breed in order to produce more of them.
Keria MorningThe Obscurist Magnus and Wolfe's mother. She is in charge of directing the Obscurists in performing the duties that the library requires of them for the institution to continue functioning.
- Batman Gambit: Her plans in Book 2.
- The Chessmaster: In the second book. Everything that happened to the heroes was to push them to gain access to the Black Archive and remove as much of the forbidden knowledge within as possible and get it out into the world.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Stays behind in the Iron Tower to buy time for her son and his students to escape.
- Hero of Another Story: Spends all of book two scheming for a way to get the printing press out into the world and change the system for the library, but she only has a few major scenes in two books before she's killed off.
- In the Back: Shot in the back at the climax of Book 2.
- Killed Off for Real: By the end of the second book.
- Mama Bear: When her son is imprisoned, she pulls every string she possibly can in order to keep him alive.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: The first book implies that she has accepted her fate and advises others to do the same, but this is Subverted in the second, which reveals that she's simply been biding her time for someone to come a long that she believes has a chance of changing the system.
- Never Mess with Granny: While younger than most examples, she's well into her fifties by the start of the series and age has not hampered her abilities one bit.
- Tranquil Fury: Whenever she goes against the Artifex and the Arhicvist, this is always the case.
- Better the Devil You Know: The Artifex Magnus recommends him for the position of Obscurist Magnus following his predecessor's death, because the only other alternative is Wolfe's other parent.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Morgan redirects one of his bird Automata into his ear, with the sharpened beak piercing his brain.
- Jerkass: Takes great pleasure in enforcing the Library's breeding program for new Obscurists.
- Killed Off for Real: Killed by Morgan at the end of Smoke and Iron.
- Name's the Same: There are two Obscurists named Gregory living in the Iron Tower. An relation between the two has yet to be revealed.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. There's another Gregory who is around the same age as Keria, while this one is only a few years older than Wolfe.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: Becomes the Obscurist Magnus Following Keria's death in Paper and Fire.
SybillaA girl Morgan had befriended during her confinement.
- All Love Is Unrequited: Had a crush on Morgan, who was already in love with Jess.
- Bungled Suicide: After Morgan fled the tower without her, she tried to kill herself with poison and failed.
- Convenient Coma: As a result of her attempted suicide when Morgan left without her.
- Straight Gay: Was in love with Morgan.
EskanderScholar Wolfe's father and a prisoner of the Iron Tower
- Big Damn Heroes: Leads the Obscurists out of the Iron Tower to save the heroes at the climax of Smoke and Iron.
- Changed My Mind, Kid: Morgan is initially unsuccessful in convincing him to lead the Obscurists in a revolt, but he shows up at the Feast of Greater Burning anyway.
- Defiant Captive: Even after decades in the Iron Tower he remains defiant.
- The Dreaded: He's the only person with the right qualifications to succeed Keria as the Obscurist Magnus, but the Library is so terrified of him that they would rather put Gregory Valdosta in charge rather than drag him out of his self-imposed exile.
- Elective Mute: According to the Artifex Magnus, he took a vow of silence.
AnnisOne of the lowest-powered Obscurists in the Iron Tower and a close friend of Wolfe's parents.
- Bi the Way: Has slept with both men and women.
- Ethical Slut: Frequently shown bringing paramours back to her quarters for sex.
- He Knows Too Much: She stumbles into a secret meeting of the Archivist's spies in the Iron Tower, and they promptly kill her to maintain their secrecy.
- Honey Trap: Uses her reputation as someone who has lots of sex to sway people in the Iron Tower to Morgan's cause. She still sleeps with them afterwards, though.
- Killed Off for Real: Killed by the Archivist's spies in Sword and Pen.
- Really Gets Around: Almost everyone her age in the Iron Tower appears to have slept with her at some point.
The Artifex MagnusThe library's chief engineer and right hand of the Archivist Magister himself. Since the Archivist is rarely seen by even other library staff members, he serves as his superior's representative.
- The Dragon: To The Archivist Magister
- Gadgeteer Genius: Artifex refers to the Library's engineering and technology department, meaning that being the Artifex Magnus at all makes him this.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Despite his willingness to kill and torture those he considers enemies of the library, the Archivist's order to destroy the Black Archives in Paper & Fire absolutely sickens him to the point that he's actually described as crying as he carries out the order.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": He has yet to be referred to by name, simply as the Artifex Magnus.
- Informed Ability: Has yet to display any engineering skills despite being the head of the Library's technology division. Justified since he has to deal with managing everyone else in his department in addition to his duties as The Dragon to the Archivist Magister and doesn't exactly have time to invent things.
- Legacy Character: The Artifex Magnus is an office that is passed on from person to person throughout the years. This one is only the most recent holder to occupy the position.
- Manly Tears: Sheds several tears when the Archivist orders him to destroy the Black Archives.
- Mouth of Sauron: Because the Archivist is busy running the library and can't make time to deal with day to day things like crushing rebellion personally.
- No Name Given: Is simply referred to as "The Artifex Magnus" or "The Artifex", despite not being the only person in the story to hold that title.
- Shame If Something Happened: His modus operandi is threatening this against the friends and family of those who oppose him.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: He genuinely wants to protect the library. The methods he uses though, are far from noble.
- Would Hurt a Child: Has no qualms about sending inexperienced 16-year-olds into an active warzone just to punish Wolfe.
The Archivist MagisterThe absolute leader of the library and arguably the most powerful man in the world. He is rarely seen outside of the library, instead preferring to act through his agents, such as the Artifex Magnus.
- Big Bad: The main source of conflict in the story is him and his administration clinging to power at all costs.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": His real name is revealed to be Theo in Book 5, but is typically only referred to as "Archivist Magister," or simply "Archivist."
- The Ghost: The only things that have ever been seen of him in the series are his written letters to his agents. Until Jess finally meets him in the flesh at the end of Ash and Quill.
- Legacy Character: The Archivist Magister is a position that is passed on from person to person each generation. The current Archivist is just the most recent owner of the title. At least until book 4, when he's deposed and exiled, with Khalila taking his job.
- The Man Behind the Man: To the Artifex Magnus.
- Non-Action Big Bad: Has not displayed any combat skill, but given the fact that he's constantly protected by automata, Obscurists, and the High Garda Elite.
- Orcus on His Throne: For the first three books, he remains behind the scene, giving orders but never doing anything proactive to stamp out rebellions.
- Villainous Breakdown: Becomes progressively more desperate and draconian in his attempts to stamp out rebellion against his authority in the fourth book.
- Taken Up to Eleven in the fifth book, where he is willing to burn the library's entire collection of books rather than allow the institution to survive without him.
CallimachusThe first Archivist of the Great Library back in the days of Pharaoh Ptolemy II and without whom the Great Library would not be what it is today, for better or worse. Although he began as the archivist for the Pharaoh, his one true loyalty is to knowledge itself.
- Badass Boast: When Ptolemy declares that women should not be admitted to the library, the original archivist had this to say:Callimachus: "His divine wisdom can kiss my common arse. We blind and hobble half the world through such ignorance, and I will not have it. Women shall study at the Serapeum as they might be inclined. Let him execute me if he wishes, but I have seen enough of minds wasted in this world. I have a daughter. My daughter will learn."
- Posthumous Character: He's been dead for several thousand years before the start of the series. All information about him comes from transcribed letters between himself and his contemporaries.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Despite the Stay in the Kitchen attitude held by the Pharaoh in regards to women learning, he declares that he is sick and tired of brilliant women being wasted by the sexism of the era, and that he will teach his daughters to read, execution for treason be damned.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: He made the Great Library independent from the Egyptian government to ensure that the knowledge collected would be preserved. The Great Library went on to become a world power unto itself, perfectly willing to sacrifice human lives in the name of collecting and preserving knowledge.
The Shadow Markets
Callum BrightwellJess and Brendan's father and head of the Brightwell family's smuggling operation. He sends his son to train for service to the library in hopes of using Jess' position to benefit his family.
- Abusive Parents: Both physically and emotionally. Besides treating Brendan like a backup twin to Jess, he treats his sons more as disposable tools than as his actual children.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Finally gets hit with this in Sword and Pen, from his son, his wife, and Wolfe.
- The Fagin: Hires local London children to serve as decoys on smuggling runs to ensure the book carriers don't get caught.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: Hides the children he hires to smuggle books by having entire crowds of decoys run the same route together to divert attention away from the one actually carrying the merchandise.
- You Are Not My Father: When they finally meet face to face in the final act of Paper and Fire, Jess refuses to call him "Dad" and refers to him by his first name. Subverted in Ash and Quill when they're forced back together by circumstances and Jess has to play nice in order to secure his father's help.
Brendan BrightwellJess's twin brother who begins training to eventually take command of the family business when Jess is sent to train at the library.
- Always Someone Better: Jess sees him this way, and the second book reveals that he feels the same way about Jess.
- Backup Twin: How his father always treated him in comparison to Jess.
- Berserk Button: being called "Scraps."
- Embarrassing Nickname: "Scraps" referring to the fact that he was born a few seconds after Jess and dangerously small.
- Evil Twin: The first book sets him up as one to Jess, and then the second one subverts it with the reveal that he has a major inferiority complex and is simply trying to set himself apart from Jess, who he views as Always Someone Better.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The second book reveals his softer side underneath his ruthless shell. And then he and Jess get a few moments of teamwork in the third.
- Killed Off for Real: Murdered by Zara in the climax of Book 4.
- Not So Different: from his twin brother Jess. Both see each other as Always Someone Better and consider themselves the Unfavorite of the family.
- Personal Horror: Projects his self-loathing issues onto Jess, according to his personal diary.
- Polar Opposite Twins: Jess and Brendan look alike but have very different personalitiesJess is outgoing and kind, while Brendan is both more reserved and seemingly more sadistic.
- Together in Death: With Neska at the end of Smoke and Iron.
- Twin Switch: He and Jess pull this off at the end of Ash and Quill so that Jess can accompany his friends to Alexandria while Brendan pretends to be Jess and protects the printing press and the Black Archive books from their father.
- The Unfavorite: Paper and Fire reveals that he feels this way about himself, as a side affect of being born unhealthily small and being given the humiliating nickname "Scraps".
Frederick BrightwellJess's cousin who helps the Postulants escape the Welsh siege of Oxford in exchange for Originals.
- Badass and Child Duo: Implied with his adopting an orphan baby at the end of the first book.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He's very smug and sleazy, but he doesn't hesitate to rescue and adopt an orphan baby Jess finds in Oxford when the Welsh army won't allow the library party to leave with her.
Liam BrightwellJess and Brendan's oldest brother. He was captured and executed before the start of the series.
- Dying Alone: His family refused to come forward and identify him when he was caught in order to preserve their reputations and maintain their secrets. As a result, he was hung for book smuggling and dumped into an unmarked mass grave.
- Parental Favoritism: Painfully clear to Jess that Liam was his father's favorite son.
- Posthumous Character: Hung for book smuggling before the first book even started.
Celia BrightwellJess and Brandan's mother.
- Extreme Doormat: never protested Callum's treatment of her children. She finally grows a spine in Book 5.
Red IbrahimA Book Smuggler operating in the heart of Alexandria. One of Callum Brightwell's closest allies.
- Boom, Headshot!: Anit kills him with a shot to the head.
- Killed Off for Real: Killed by his own daughter for trying to sell Jess out to the Archivist.
- Playing Both Sides: In Smoke and Iron, he is business allies with the Brightwell family, while also selling out the Postulants to save his own business.
- Properly Paranoid: He has to be when he's running a black market for books right in the heart of Alexandria.
Anit IbrahimThe daughter of Red Ibrahim who is willing to trade Jess information.
- Ambiguously Evil: It's unclear whether she's on Jess's side or his father's. Ultimately, though allied with Jess, she's on her own side.
- Family of Choice: She and Jess declare themselves this in Book 5.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Has this reaction in Book 4 after she kills her own father.
- Properly Paranoid: Much like her father, she has to be when selling Originals in the heart of Alexandria.
- Self-Made Orphan: Kills her own father in the fourth book to save Jess and Brendan.
The Burner Movement
The Burner Movement was founded in 1795 by Thomas Paine, who spoke out against the library's ironclad control over what knowledge people were allowed to read. The Burners protest the illegality of personal ownership of books, as well as the library's We Have Reserves attitude towards human lives sacrificed in defense of books. Their goal is to weaken the library's influence and spread the knowledge it hordes across the world.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Their members included Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
- Book Burning: How they got their name, by burning books with Greek Fire to protest the library's totalitarian level of control over civilization.
- Greek Fire: Their weapon of choice for book burning.
- Meaningful Name: Burner refers to their M.O. of burning books to make a political statement.
- Pretentious Latin Motto: Vita hominis plus libro valet! A life is worth more than a book. Possibly invoked to mock the library's own motto, "Knowledge is all."
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Jess remarks that he understands their goals and motivations, he finds their methods of burning books repulsive, because unless other copies of a work exist, the knowledge contained in the books they burn is lost forever.
The leader of the Burner city of Philadelphia, and by extension, leader of the entire Burner movement. He hates the Library with a fanatic zeal and will do whatever he can to weaken its grip on the world.
- Faux Affably Evil: Jess and the others are able to see through his veneer of civility.
- Killed Off for Real: Partway through the third book.
- Man on Fire: [[spoiler: Burned alive when the Library destroys Philadelphia with Greek Fire midway through Ash and Quill.
- Manly Tears: Cries tears of joy when he sees the printing press in action and realizes its implications.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Killed halfway through the book in which he was introduced.
The leader of the Burners operating in London. Callum Brightwell and his smuggling organization temporarily ally themselves with her at the end of Paper & Fire when the Welsh army attacks London, only to betray Callum and take the Postulants prisoner.
The father of Postulant Guillame Danton.